Winemaker John Jordan is making headlines this week in Sonoma County for his star turn in a series of online music videos touting his Alexander Valley winery.
Six weeks ago, though, he was making news in Massachusetts for his efforts to create a new star in the Republican Party.
Jordan, who ran unsuccessfully for the California State Senate in 1998, this spring pumped almost $1.4 million into the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of Gabriel Gomez, the Republican who sought to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated when John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State.
Jordan's heavy involvement in the special election raised eyebrows because, until nearly the last minute, his role was hidden behind a political action committee known only as "Americans for Progressive Action." Because he started pumping in dollars relatively late in the campaign, Jordan didn't have to file financial disclosures until after the election.
But on June 21, he disclosed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he was the "mystery donor" in the Massachusetts Senate race. According to federal elections filings, his PAC gave $1.7 million to the Gomez campaign, of which about $1.4 million was spent and the rest returned.
So why would Jordan, the 41-year-old winery owner and erstwhile music video star, be so involved in a U.S. Senate race on the other side of the country?
He explained to the Journal:
"Here I saw an American hero running in a close race in a tough state while getting absolutely pounded by Democrats throwing everything they could at him. I just couldn't sit by and watch and leave him alone while the establishment Republican groups decided to sit on their hands and just leave him on the beach. I just couldn't do that."
The phrase about leaving Gomez "on the beach" is telling. Gomez, who has never served in elected office, is a former Navy SEAL. Jordan mentioned his own background in the Navy Reserves to the Journal, and said that military connection played into his financial participation.
"Some of those ethics of never leaving anyone behind, they die hard," he said.
But it's not just a military thing. Jordan has a long history of political participation, both behind the scenes and on the ballot.
He and his family, who used money from the oil and gas business to establish Jordan Vineyard & Winery in the 1970s, are long-time Republican donors who have given more than $250,000 to GOP candidates and causes over the past three election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Journal reported. John Jordan gave more than $60,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2011 and 2012, and has hosted fund-raisers at his winery for Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Republican Governors Association.
Jordan's 1998 campaign for the state Senate against Democrat Wes Chesbro was at the time the costliest state legislative contest ever waged. The two spent a combined $6.4 million, with Jordan spending more than $700,000 of his own money. Chesbro won by 25,000 votes.
Jordan's expenditures in the Gomez campaign this year stood out because they were even larger than the GOP's own National Republican Senatorial Committee, which put $900,000 into the Massachusetts race. Jordan told the Journal he felt the GOP abandoned Gomez even while it claimed to seek out a more moderate image for voters.